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Frugal or Cheap?

Frugal or CheapAre you frugal or cheap?

Being frugal is a way of life. It is a choice for those of us who focus on conspicuous consumption rather than indiscriminate spending. But while the goal of both frugal behavior and cheap behavior is to save money, the difference stops there. While the frugal favor value, the cheap are solely focused on getting the lowest price possible.

Do you always go with the lowest bidder?  Or do you evaluate the quality of the service relative to the cost? Do you prefer to buy the cheapest model today or would you rather hold off until you can afford to buy a higher quality version down the road? Do you take pride in paying your own way or are you just as comfortable letting someone else pay for you?

These are the questions to ask yourself.

As one who regularly looks for ways to save money, I would hate for people to think of me as cheap when in fact, I am frugal. But while I see clear distinctions between being frugal or cheap, I understand how others may find the terms synonymous. As such, I would like to clarify the difference between being frugal or cheap.


The Frugal Mindset

Taking advantage of other people.  Cheap people look to save money by any means necessary even if that is getting other people to pay for their stuff. Sometimes without the others even being aware (at least so they think). Splitting the check is a good example. When you go out to eat with friends, do you always pay your fair share or even more than your fair share (including drinks, desserts, shared appetizers, taxes, tip)? We all know those who skimp when it comes time to split the bill. And it’s a very annoying behavior. That’s being cheap.

Alternatively, when I go out to eat and the bill arrives, I will make sure to pay a little extra. The way I see it is I’m paying for the privilege of my friends’ company. If everyone does this and there’s a little extra at the end, we all can take a little back. But no one feels they paid for someone else.

If I don’t have the money to spend, or don’t want to spend my money in that way, I will politely decline the invitation rather than expecting someone else to pay my way.


Buying low cost, low quality products.  Do you own a computer? Over the years, I have bought many. And buying the least expensive one is almost always a mistake. The performance is horrible. They are difficult to use. It doesn’t last long and cannot be easily upgraded. Instead, I prefer to buy a solid middle performer. I keep it maintained and upgrade it periodically and it lasts me years. Even if I pay twice as much, it lasts me three times as long and the experience is much more enjoyable.

How about running shoes? As an occasional distance runner, wearing high quality shoes is a necessity. Not only will higher quality shoes last longer, they are so much better for your feet. I buy my shoes from a specialty running store that not only measures the size of my feet, but also records my gait pattern. I get shoes that are specifically designed for my particular foot and my running style. This helps prevent injury and improves comfort and speed.


Making things by hand.  Sticking with the food theme, the cheap will eat fast food, the frugal will shop for healthy food and prepare the meal themselves. But it doesn’t stop there. The frugal find ways to make other things by hand – gifts, furniture.

The frugal will also learn to repair the things they own. They will do their own maintenance around the house. They will change the oil in their car themselves.

The frugal tend to be self-reliant and would rather do things themselves rather than pay someone else to do them. They are willing to give up convenience for the sake of saving money.

On the other hand, the cheap tend not to maintain their things. Because they don’t like spending money, they don’t want to hire someone, but they’re also unwilling to do the work themselves. As a result, items don’t last as long, which winds up costing more in the long run.


Does Frugal or Cheap Matter?

In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether you are frugal or cheap. It’s a personality trait. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Maybe annoying, but not bad.

If you reuse coffee grounds, I think that makes you cheap. Second time around coffee just isn’t even worth drinking. Whereas, using ground coffee rather than coffee pods makes you frugal. It is certainly easier to make coffee with a pod, but it costs significantly more. If you drink coffee every day, that additional expense can add up. But the savings you get from reusing grounds isn’t worth it.

I don’t like low quality, cheap new cars. Instead, I would rather drive a used older model, higher end car. It will last longer. It’s safer. And the driving experience is more enjoyable.

Of course, if you really want to exercise your frugal side, ride your bike and walk rather than owning a car. It will save you money and improve your health. My neighbor rides 15 miles to and from work every day. It’s downhill in the morning, but uphill on the way home. Not only is he saving money, he isn’t contributing to the pollution problem, and he never needs to work out.

There are many ways you can be frugal without being cheap. That’s the fun part. Find ways to have a high standard of living without spending as much money and without being cheap.


Readers, are you frugal or cheap or neither? Please let me know other ways to be frugal without being cheap.


Permanent link to this article: http://financialslacker.com/frugal-or-cheap/


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  1. Andrew @ Debt Freedom Journey

    If you ask my wife, I’m cheap. If you ask me, I’m frugal. It’s all about perspective.

    Nice post and nice blog. I’ll be following you on Feedly.

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    1. Financial Slacker


      Thank you for following. I appreciate your support.

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  2. ambertreeleaves

    Let’s hope that my friends and family consider me frugal and not cheap.

    My running shoes are pretty expensive, they need to be right for me and last a lot of runs.

    I do think we are frugal when going to ski. We do not take the 5 star holiday package. We do take lessons so that we get better at skiing and can have fun as a family years from now. We do not drink champagne at the top of the mountain, we do drink an expensive beer to enjoy the lake view from the mountain top.

    In 3 weeks, I bike again to the train station. we then plan to go back to a one car family. Fingers crossed that we can make it.

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    1. Financial Slacker


      Sounds like frugal to me.

      Taking lessons is a great example of frugal vs cheap. I’m the same way. Any activity is more enjoyable when you know what you’re doing. And you get more out of your time and money taking lessons.

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  3. Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds

    I think being cheap is doing things like not tipping at a meal, and letting your friends do it instead. Whereas being frugal would be (not going out for the meal at all, lol!) doing something like finding a budget restaurant or a voucher.

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    1. Financial Slacker

      P to P:

      Great examples!

      Having worked as a waiter, I appreciate how much the tip is part of their compensation. Without it, they often aren’t even making minimum wage. I’m usually overly generous when tipping. Typically, the service has to be flagrantly bad for me to tip less than 20%.

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  4. Jax

    I think overall I am frugal but there are times when I am cheap. I don’t like to use the heat/ac so the house can get uncomfortable at time. That was fine when I was living along but now that I live with others I need to compromise. I agree with Francesca-cheap definitely is not tipping at a meal or always mooching off friends/family.

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    1. Financial Slacker


      It’s definitely easier to be frugal when it’s just you. But it’s much more fun with others. It’s all about the balance.

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  5. Get FIRE'd asap

    Frugal vs cheap seems to be a common theme at the moment. I’d say most of my friends think I’m cheap. Why? because they have no perception of what frugal is and it doesn’t matter how many times I explain it.

    Do I care? No. Because I’m doing it for me and my future and peace of mind. Perhaps that’s why I’m now retired (early, at 50) and they will probably keep on working for many more years to pay for their spendy lifestyle.

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    1. Financial Slacker


      You’re right. It really doesn’t matter what the others think. Sounds like you have it figured out.

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  6. Apathy Ends

    If I buy something, it has to be quality – have learned that lesson to many times. Cheap blue ray player was the last straw

    I usually go cheap on household goods where brands mean nothing to me.

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    1. Financial Slacker


      Not sure if it counts as a household good, but my one recommendation is if you buy a dishwasher, get a high quality one. I’ve had cheap ones and they are no fun. Loud. Take forever. And don’t get anything clean.

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  7. ZJ Thorne

    My silly example is buying good quality ice cream. If I buy crappy ice cream, I invariably eat more. Decadent ice cream made by a good company satisfies me with far less. That ice cream lasts longer and is more satisfying on all levels. Happy to make these tough financial choices.

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    1. Financial Slacker


      Have you ever tried “healthy” ice cream? It is horrble. If I’m going to eat ice cream, I want the good stuff – loads of fat and sugar. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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  8. Thias @It Pays Dividends

    I’ve fallen into the “cheap” trap before by buying the cheapest option always. It took a few times of me replacing the cheap version multiple times to finally realize I was actually spending more in the long run. Cheap vs frugal is a fine line that you need to be careful not to cross.

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    1. Financial Slacker


      I’m guilty of buying cheap as well. It’s a casualty of being frugal. As you say, the line is fine.

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  9. Investment Hunting

    Frugal is a good thing. To me frugality is about taking advantage of discounts and sales where applicable and not wasting money on frivolous items. Not necessarily buying the cheapest items, but quality ones at the right time. A lot of times cheap actually cost more. Take laptops for example. A cheap person buys the lowest price piece of junk laptop and ends up replacing it every year due to breakage or poor performance, whereas a frugal person buys a high-end laptop on sale and uses it for five years.

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    1. Financial Slacker

      It’s funny that you mention laptops. That’s exactly what I did. My children need laptops for school and my first time around, I bought very inexpensive ones. But they didn’t work out at all. One was too big and bulky. The other too small. And neither had much power and they were a pain to use.

      I wound up buying them new ones and using the cheap ones myself. I guess that’s my punishment for being cheap.

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  10. desidividend

    I think i am frugal not cheap,i am always about taking advantages with coupons,sales discounts .I think in case of laptop i maybe cheap or frugal depending on the year.

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    1. Financial Slacker

      I think using coupons and buying on sale is frugal. It’s when you buy the cheap product and need to buy another one soon after, that you ventured into the world of cheap.

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  11. ARB

    I think I tend to be frugal in some areas and cheap in others. I think we are all like that. On one hand, I pay for myself when I go out with friends and will often cover the bill myself. On the other hand, I refuse to pay to have my phone’s screen fixed.

    Would the steadfast refusal to patron any bar/club with a cover charge count as frugal or cheap?

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

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    1. Financial Slacker

      I don’t get to spend much time going clubbing these days as I once did, but I do appreciate that.

      As long as you don’t expect someone else to pay the cover charge, I would say frugal.

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